CLEARWATER — Two teenage sisters were injured Sunday when their personal watercraft exploded in the Intracoastal Waterway north of the Memorial Causeway.
Tiffany M. Davis, 16, was piloting the 1999 Polaris watercraft, and her sister, Heather N. Davis, 19, was a passenger when the explosion occurred at 12:30 p.m.
Moments earlier, the sisters, both of Clearwater, had been stopped by Pinellas County sheriff's marine unit Deputy Richard Bennett near the Seminole Boat Ramp because they were not wearing life jackets.
Bennett ticketed the young women and directed them back to the boat ramp because neither had the documents required to operate a boat. The deputy started to leave, but returned when he saw the 16-year-old was having trouble restarting the engine.
As Bennett grabbed the handle bar to steady the craft, it exploded, knocking the young women into the water. Bennett pulled them aboard his patrol boat and took them to the nearby boat ramp, where they were met by paramedics.
The sisters were taken by ambulance to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, where they were treated and released. At the family's home Sunday evening, a woman who answered the door identified herself as the mother of the two teenagers but would not provide her name. She said her daughters sustained only minor injuries in the accident.
The deputy was not injured. His "quick actions likely prevented a tragedy," Sgt. Dwayne Somers, Sheriff's Office Marine Enforcement Unit supervisor, said in a statement.
The vessel burned and later sank. An investigation into the cause of the blast is ongoing.
Florida law provides that anyone 21 years old or younger must complete a safe boaters course, pass a test and carry a boater identification card to operate any vessel with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater.
Statistics show that injuries from personal watercraft have decreased in Pinellas County over the past decade. In 1997, there were 71 water scooter accidents, with 36 injuries and one fatality. In 2007, there were 17 accidents, 12 injuries and no fatalities, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or firstname.lastname@example.org.